I have a confession. I failed in my wedding photography business. I don’t think I have admitted this ‘out loud’ since I retired from shooting.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t producing quality work for my couples. Because I was.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t showing up when booked and staying well past the festivities concluding. Because I was.
It wasn’t because I wasn’t meeting delivery deadlines. Because I was doing that too.
I failed at my wedding photography business because I couldn’t let go.
As a small business owner, you wear many hats. This is only to be expected and part of joining the small biz club. You take on as much as you can possibly do yourself, but at some point, you have to put your hands up and say “I can’t do this all myself”.
In my wedding photography business, I didn’t do that. I was the photographer, the editor, the marketing manager, the designer, the website developer, the social media guru, the business development manager, the driver, the receptionist, the administrator and occasionally the hairdresser (wedding photogs will understand ).
As a natural creative and someone who enjoyed designing, I felt like I was a failure if I handed over my branding to a specialist. I felt like I was a failure if I didn’t put together an amazing website all by myself. Because I couldn’t let these elements of my business go…my branding was always half complete. Yes, there was something that resembled a logo, but a full branding roll out? Nope. My website didn’t receive the attention it deserved. It was basically a few images slapped on a page with something that resembled writing to break it up a little. There was little to no thought for how my potential clients would use and interact the website.
…and don’t even get me started on my bookkeeping habits. Tax time was the worst.
It’s not being able to let go which eventually leads to a state of burn out and I learnt this the hard way. Towards the end of my 6 year career as a wedding photographer…I was exhausted. I was exhausted because I didn’t allow myself and the business time to set up proper processes, to invest in working with talented people who specialise in each area to ensure the way I was presenting myself to my clients was the best it could possibly be. Time to ensure I had documented systems in place that helped to automate my business, to cut down on administration tasks that would ultimately give me back the time to do what I loved. Taking photos. I always felt like I was playing catch-up and I have a feeling you can relate.
I have been away from professional photography for around 5 years now. During this time, I have spent time reflecting on what I could have done better, all the systems I dreamt of putting in place, but could never quite find the time to do. It also inspired me to finally pursue my aspirations of becoming a designer and help other small business owners achieve what I couldn’t quite do myself whilst working in my own photography business.
As they say “hindsight is 20/20” and if I had some advice for photographers (or any other small business owner out there) it would be;
- Take time off to work on your business and solely on your business. No shoots, no editing. This time is just for you. Take as long as you need to feel comfortable that you have researched, planned, reflected, taken action and elevated your business to a level where your business will work smarter for you moving forward. Make sure you do this regularly. Perhaps book some time out every three months to review what’s working, what’s not and make a plan to implement the changes you need to.
- Charge what you are worth. Be sure your pricing covers not only your living expenses, business expenses including allowances for elements of outsourcing where needed, but ensure it is profitable too. There is no magic number for this as it varies from individual to individual.
Where to ask for help from professionals;
- Your admin – You need to do this before working on your marketing. Without a good administration/invoicing foundation, all the time you’ve spent perfecting your marketing will come undone. The rise of virtual assistants (VRs) mean there are now lovely and skilled people out there who specialise in setting up administration systems and automation using programs like Dubsado, Shoot Q, 17 hats etc. This is worth the investment if you feel a little out of your league setting these up.
- Your contract – this is essential for photographers. These days there are lots of free resources online to assist you to work out your client agreement/contract. If you would prefer to take this to the next level and retain the services of a lawyer. Even better. Your contract execution should be integrated into your administration system as above.
- Your brand – branding is so much more than just a logo. It is the vibe of your business and how your potential clients perceive you. Your branding should emulate the kind of clients or customers you hope to attract. Your brand is the entire experience, from when they first discover you online to when they receive their finished product. Ensuring the entire experience is cohesive reinforces the perceived value of your work.
- Your website – is the book that tells the story of your business and brand. It should effectively communicate what you and your brand is about, convey the quality and value of your work, take them on a journey of discovery and lead them to the point of making first contact. It should put the ‘hard yards’ in to capture potential leads and offer a solution to assist with automating some of the basic administration tasks. A website is an investment for years to come and will quickly pay for itself many times over.
Getting the above right from get go – or hitting the ‘restart’ button on your business when you feel it is all too much frees you up to work on the things that really matter;
- Shooting and editing
- Sharing your work on social media and interacting with your audience.
- Blogging – my advice to photographers is to blog, blog, blog. Tell your stories through images and make potential clients feel like they were right there with you.
- Responding to enquires and securing your next bookings.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed by your workload, remember that there are always ways to outsource the basics;
- Editing – Australian business Raw Digital makes this easy – they can cull and edit using your own actions or their own.
- Admin – VAs offer a range of services from responding to enquiries to invoicing.
- Blogging – these can fall in VA territory too. Most VAs also are capable using Photoshop etc and can effectively blog on your behalf.
- Social Media – the rise of social media means the rise of freelance social media managers/strategists. These businesses are a quick Google search away.